This infographic was created by the Shoal Collective who you can find on twitter via @shoalcollective. They are a cooperative of independent writers and researchers, writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism. This graphic was created the highlight thesheer scale to which the British arms industry is involved with supplying Erdoğan’s fascistic regime in Turkey with the arms which are used to suppress Turkish citizens and attack Kurdish communities and the Internationalists fighting alongside them in Rojava.
The DPRTE arms fair pulls together the UK military, weapon manufacturers, and arms dealers and exporters. Not only does it support our own military industrial complex, but it involves companies like BAE systems who supply some of the worlds most repressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
On March 28th, we’ll be joining with a host of other people, from members of faith groups to trade unionists, to confront those who profit from death and abuse. If you want to take a stand, scroll down for the practical info, if you’d like to know more first, read on for our DPRTE FAQ!
What is DPRTE?
DPRTE, stands for Defence Procurement, Research, Technology & Exportability. I know, catchy right? It brings together multinational arms companies, smaller companies involved in research or production, and organisations that want to buy or help export weapons. It first took place in 2012, and has happened almost every year since. The organisers often like to claim ‘it isn’t technically an arms fair!’ as contracts aren’t signed at the event itself. No one really buys that though, even the police just call it an arms fair!
Every bomb that is dropped, every bullet that is fired, has to be made somewhere. Wherever that is, it can be resisted.
Why oppose it?
The UK arms trade exists for two reasons. To make a bunch of already rich people richer, and to allow our government to act tough in front of their international rivals. The cost of this is immense. Perpetual war, something any rational person would want to avoid, is quietly pushed for in order to drive up stock prices. The fires of conflict are kept burning with the supply of British made weapons, regardless of the human cost. Brutal regimes are kept in power by British missiles and aircraft. Business as usual for the arms trade can be disrupted, if its profiteers are exposed and it’s political supporters challenged.
What about the economic benefits?
the UK’s role in the international arms trade is brought up, there
is talk about the ‘job creation’. For most of us the human cost
of these jobs is simply too high, even those whose lively hood depend
on them have in the past fought against the arming of authoritarian
regimes! Even if you only cared about income, once you factor in tax
payer funded subsidies, the government research handed over, and the
free assistance and
promotion given by the civil service we pay more than £18,000 a year
for every single one of those jobs. Any sector would be successful
with that backing, and the support could be given to anything from
education to environmental protection.
A History of Resistance to DPRTE – In Which They Run Away A Lot
In 2013 students at the University of the West of England (UWE) discovered an ‘exhibition’ being hosted on their Frenchay campus was in fact an arms fair. Anarchist Federation members studying at UWE were amongst those who disrupted the set up, marched through campus, blockaded the gates, and got inside the event itself. The day was a shambles, with most of the arms dealers stuck in traffic. At this point DPRTE ran away to Cardiff.
A further four DPRTE events took place at Cardiff’s Motorpoint arena. From the start they encountered resistance, organised by Stop the Cardiff Arms Fair, South Wales Anarchists, The Anarchist Action Network, Campaign Against the Arms Trade and more! Cardiff’s DPRTE events saw an occupied roof, red paint on their expensive suits, marches, communications blockades and increasing numbers of protesters surrounding the venue for the entire day. The police attempted to intimidate and arrest protesters at random, but this just led to dropped charges, payouts for wrongful arrest, and an even more determined resistance. By 2018 the protest had grown much larger, aided by groups such as the Kurdish Solidarity Network, and members of AFed from as far away as Cornwall. The arms fair was even being condemned in the Welsh Assembly. At this point DPRTE ran away to Birmingham.
Putting some distance extra between DPRTE and the committed anti-arms activists of South Wales and Bristol probably seemed like a good idea to the organisers. However a coalition of people in Birmingham soon made it clear that there would be just as much trouble for the event near their city. By the start of 2019 pressure was mounting on the venue and local government, and packed out meetings representing unions, faith groups, anarchists and others were putting plans in place for a number of demonstrations. At this point DPRTE ran away to Farnborough.
Changing venue with little time to spare couldn’t have been an easy (or cheap) decision for the DPRTE organisers. In Farnborough perhaps they think they have made themselves ‘un protestable’, with a secure venue owned by the industry itself, nestled in between an air field and the premises of arms companies. The creative, resourceful and committed movement against them begs to differ. Do they have anywhere left to run?
What you need to know!
The loose coalition of groups that has formed to confront DPRTE, is planning a static protest near the entrances of the event. There will be a diverse mix of folks present, and at these events it is common for small groups to launch their own actions throughout proceedings. Keep an eye out if you want to support these, or of course plan your own.
The Arms Fair takes places for one day, Thursday the 28th of March. Most of the set up is completed the night before, so delegates begin to arrive before 9am. This makes early morning the key time for any protest that wants to make its presence known, and we’ll be kicking things off from 8.30am.
The venue itself – Farnborough International Exhibition & Conference Centre – has multiple entrances, and prior experience tells us that if there is a protest at one, organisers may attempt to hide this from attendees by instructing them to enter by a different entrance. As such the location of the main bulk of the protest may vary, so make sure to check
back here just before the day, or keep in touch with Campaign Against the Arms Trade or Birmingham Stop the Arms Fair. For now, aim to get to Queens Roundabout, Farnborough GU14 6AZ.
There are groups travelling to Farnborough from Bristol and Birmingham. If you would like to join them contact Bristol Anarchist Federation or Birmingham Stop the Arms Fair. There are several train stations near the venue, (Farnborough Main, Farnborough North, Aldershot) with regular services from London Waterloo, Guilford and Reading. If you are coming by car, you’ll need the A325 which is off the M3 and A31. More travel details can be found on the venues website, or by studying your online map of choice!
Unfortunately we can’t control what the police do. Whilst it is completely legal to take part in a static protest, the police will possibly see fit to give you trouble anyway. This is a risk at any and all public protest, and we highly recommend you read up on your legal rights, make sure you stick with a group of fellow protesters, and keep a look out for each other.
We’ll finish off by letting you know what you should bring. Beyond the basics for any day outside (an extra layer of clothing, water, snacks), we want to be seen and heard. So bring placards, banners, megaphones, loud voices, or quiet plans! ■
When: Thursday 28th March 8.30am onwards
Where: Farnborough International Exhibition & Conference Centre farnboroughinternational.org
For updates check Social Media of:-
Campaign Against the ArmsTrade
Birmingham Stop the Arms Fair
Stop the Cardiff Arms Fair / Na i Ffair Arfau Caerdydd
For transport from Bristol via coach buy tickets at eventbright or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
if you require a solidarity ticket or want to donate further to costs.
Fans will welcome the first full length release from Bristol’s finest ska’d up anarchist punk export, Spanner, since 2011’s Crisis, but there is plenty here for new comers as well. Into their existing sound they have woven elements of folk, dub, spoken word, French hip hop, and on one track Bad Religion style ‘oozing ahhs’ accompanying a melodic hardcore intro. The musical changes are accompanied with a shake up of vocal duties, with every member of the band and numerous guest vocalists taking a turn on the mic, and joining together for choruses. It all combines to form a sound that feels like it was created as part of a real community, much like the best of Chumbawamba’s records.
certainly a sound that is well earned, as Spanner have always
followed up their words with deeds. Track 10, ‘All Over the Place’,
is all about their experiences throwing themselves into the DIY music
scene, long stretches of touring and a thriving ‘resistance
culture’. You’re also likely to find the band members anywhere
there is a demonstration to be had, solidarity funds to be raised, or
trouble to be caused. It’s this direct involvement that lends
weight to the lyrical content, and allowed them to successfully sue
South Wales police to raise funds for making the album!
‘Property Wrongs’ features perhaps the most instantly infections lyrics, after all who could resist joining in with a shout of ‘SCUM LANDLORDS’? There is certainly a lot of anger at the state of the world throughout many of the tracks, something which any of us paying attention will share. Other targets of the band’s wrath include the alienation of having our social interactions mediated by online companies in the more ‘traditional Spanner’ ska-punk opening track ‘Immobilised’. ‘Always Antifascist’ aims its anger at not just the fascists but the self appointed leaders of the left who would rather we politely protested away from the fash. The spoken word and folk laden ‘Apotheosis’ takes aim at organised religion, and Jeremy Kyle gets his comeuppance in the eclectic ‘The Peoples Trial of Jeremy Kyle’.
Beyond all the insight, and well directed rage is something much rare, and far more important. Optimism. It’s not often any of us can manage to be earnestly positive, instead we use self deprecation, cynicism and sarcasm as the tried and tested coping mechanisms (very British of us!). Loudly exclaiming that we can, and will, win is something we need more of, and is a running theme here, most notable in the energetic harmonies of ‘Impossible’.
We Won’t be Stopped is a great edition to any rebel’s record collection, and I highly recommend banging it on before you head out on your next direct action. Don’t just take my word for it, you can listen to the album in full on Spanner’s bandcamp, and order a copy on Vinyl or CD. Despite their many valid critiques of social media, you can also like them on facebook, and find out when they are coming to a town near you. ■
Last month, bisexual gamer and leftist YouTuber Hbomberguy finished a gruelling 57-hour streaming session of the notoriously frustrating videogame Donkey Kong 64, raising over $340,000 for UK trans charity Mermaids. The mammoth effort was in response to anti-trans activist Graham Lineham and his briefly successful social media campaign to jeopardise Mermaids’ funding from the UK government.
With support at first in the gay and trans communities, the stream eventually went viral over left-wing social media and spread into the wider geek and videogame subcultures, with nerd celebrities like the designer of the Doom and Quake games John Romero, Donkey Kong 64 composer Grant Kirkhope and absurdist queer sci-fi erotica writer Chuck Tingle appearing publicly throughout the stream alongside a variety of left and left-leaning figures such as whistleblower and outspoken socialist Chelsea Manning, internet philosopher ContraPoints and even US democratic congress member Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.
The stream served as a powerful counterpoint to the culture of toxicity and right-wing politics that often dominate the gaming world, showing passionate support for an oppressed community while connecting up our struggle with the wider left. It also shined a light on the existence of the leftist nerd: a common type of nerd (especially in trans communities) whose presence is continually overshadowed by the louder voices of reactionary gamers and pseudo-rationalist centrists claiming to be apolitical, even as they enthusiastically support the status quo. When even basic nods towards progressive politics in games are often controversial – such as when the 2016 Baldur’s Gate expansion Siege of Dragonspear included a transgender character and the developers were review-bombed and harassed for it – reactionary politics are often employed as a marketing mechanic, pandering to the delusion that the ‘social justice warriors’ are out to get gamers.
This phenomenon is not unique to gaming but it does appear to be more common among fans than in other mediums. The idea of gamers as an embattled minority, beset by what they perceive as the lying, hating left on one side, and the censorship of the religious right on the other, has actually become a meme in certain circles. Never mind the aforementioned right-wing biases in gaming or the sometimes fascinating history of Christian games.
Gatekeeping in reaction to a previously maligned hobby becoming popular and hence accessible to everyone – even those who lack the skill of more adept gamers – plays a part in this as well. There is for instance a trend to lament the rise in context- and content-driven (as opposed to purely gameplay-driven) reviews, especially when journalists are seen to ‘suck’ at games.
Hbomberguy’s stream gave the lie to all of these assumptions. Firstly, by absolutely dominating at the game and, secondly, by showing just how many leftists genuinely love the medium.
It isn’t just that almost everybody finds gaming enjoyable. It’s also that many games are built on highly detailed alternative worlds. I have discussed before how this can help to educate players by making them compare the game’s world with the one in which they live. What must also be observed is that this process is intrinsic to gaming, and that the wider left can take advantage of it.
As a democratic, modern entertainment medium, games are openly created so that players can have fun. Simple games like Candy Crush will usually do nothing else. But with more elaborate games like, say, Yakuza 0, the gameplay and the narrative necessitate drawing connections to the outside world. These connections create a dialogue between the game and player, asking questions that the player is obliged to answer. By drawing their attention to them, leftists can help gamers see the nature of the world we really live in and help them feel empowered to change it.
This is an example of what Paulo Freire calls dialogic education. As he writes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968):
Because dialogue is an encounter among women and men who name the world, it must not be a situation where some name on behalf of others. It is an act of creation; it must not serve as a crafty instrument for the domination of one person by another. The domination implicit in dialogue is that of the world by the dialoguers; it is conquest of the world for the liberation of humankind.
Yakuza 0 is an anime-inspired action game about a pair of Japanese criminals who get drawn into a complicated war between the Yakuza and a real estate company over an absurdly valuable plot of empty land. The game is often sexist and the role the martial arts play in it is very silly, but the action builds upon a simulation of a pre-financial bust Japan that offers a robust commentary on capitalist greed and the way that gentrification destroys communities. It even has a side-quest featuring a conversation about tax law with a city politician that starts with you having to fight off a group of businessmen exclaiming that taxation is theft, and then answer questions from the politician on the purpose of taxation and how a tax becomes both workable and fair. The tax that the player ends up creating is real – it was introduced by former Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita around the time when the game is set.
This sort of teaching is a core feature of the medium. You can see it in Battletech, a robot-themed strategy game that includes an innovative trans-inclusive character creator showing players just how diverse human gender really is. You can see it in Spinnortality, a game about ‘soft power’, and in Wolfenstein 2’s Nazi-smashing dieselpunk alt-history, which uses satire to show how present-day America has come to be ruled over by avowed white supremacists. You can even see it in games that try to be ‘just’ simulations seemingly devoid of politics; socialist YouTuber donoteat01’s videos on Cities Skylines show how the innovative use of building mods combined with a players own experience can reveal the ways in which building cities are political acts.
Games like Civilization VI, which present social and historical phenomena in more simplistic fashion, or those that make an effort to avoid the real-world politics of the places and scenarios that they’re discussing – such as Farcry 5 – tend to suffer for these omissions.
While the barriers for entry can be high, gaming has become a mainstream art form, and it’s easier to get into than it’s ever been before. There are a lot of options, too, with everything from modern versions of traditional platformers to full-blown space operas that can serve equally well as introductions to the medium.
The power of videogames to influence our society towards progressive (or reactionary) ends through dialogic education, team building, and simulations of the world makes familiarity not just with gaming culture but with the games themselves a vital tool to shape and understand reality. Through criticism, narration, or simple engagement with the games and their communities, leftists can raise both awareness and money for the causes we are passionate about, and fight against the wider political drift towards the right that we are experiencing throughout the world.
Maddison Stoff is a non-binary autistic writer and musician from Melbourne, whose essays have appeared in Overland, Flood Media, and New Matilda. Her debut book, For We Are Young and Free, a compilation of interlinking meta-fictional Australian cyberpunk, is out now on UK indie publisher Dostoyevsky Wannabe. You can follow her on Twitter, @thedescenters
This article fire appeared at Overland.org.au
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (andhence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless seriesof hobgoblins, all of them
- H. L. Mencken
As a general rule, democratic theory tends to represent actors within representative democracies as essentially rational beings who, despite a tendency to be corrupted by the exercise of power, follow a rationality that can be accounted for. Rational choice theory, for example, sees individual choices, understood to be the result of one or another form of reasoning, as the basis of social phenomena.(1) At the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, democratic theory will even acknowledge some level of dysfunctionality in traditional institutions and argue for reform of their corporatist tendencies, as one might argue for managing the symptoms of cancer without pretence or hope of effecting a cure.(2) But the point remains.
Far less understood or accounted for, for the most part, is what Maurice Brinton has called the irrational in politics.(3) Working-class electoral support for radical reactionaries proposing austerity programs that would hurt them was not, Brinton felt, especially rational. The average working-class voter of middle age, far from being open to democratic politics, was probably ‘hierarchy conscious, xenophobic, racially-prejudiced, pro-monarchy, pro-capital punishment, pro-law-and-order, anti-demonstrator, anti-long haired students and anti-dropout’.(4) Trying to discuss measures for the redress of working-class grievances would, Brinton felt, ‘almost certainly meet not only with disbelief but also that positive hostility that often denotes latent anxiety’, a fact that led him to conclude that ‘certain subjects are clearly emotionally loaded’.(5) Cognisant of such, the noted US journalist and satirist H. L. Mencken wrote at some length on what Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Reich would later, in analysing the nascent national socialist movement, refer to as the ‘mass individual’.(6) Ideas, Mencken noted, ‘leave them unscathed; they are responsive only to emotions, and their emotions are all elemental — the emotions, indeed, of tabby-cats rather than of men’:
Fear remains the chief of them. The demagogues, that is, the professors of mob psychology, who flourish in democratic states are well aware of the fact, and make it the cornerstone of their exact and puissant science. Politics under democracy consists almost wholly of the discovery, chase and scotching of bugaboos. The statesman becomes, in the last analysis, a mere witch-hunter, a glorified smeller and snooper, eternally chanting ‘Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum!’ It has been so in the United States since the earliest days. The whole history of the country has see the melodramatic pursuit of horrendous monsters, most of them imaginary: the red-coats, the Hessians, the monocrats, again the red-coats, the Bank, the Catholics, Simon Legree, the Slave Power, Jeff Davis, Mormonism, Wall Street, the rum demon, John Bull, the hell hounds of plutocracy, the trusts, General Weyler, Pancho Villa, German spies, hyphenates, the Kaiser, Bolshevism. The list could be lengthened indefinitely; a complete chronicle of the Republic could be written in terms of it, and without omitting a single important episode. It was long ago observed that the plain people, under democracy, never vote for anything, but always against something. This explains, in large measure, the tendency of democratic states to pass over statespeople of genuine imagination and sound ability in favour of colourless mediocrities.(7)
By mid-century, Menken’s observations had enjoyed development at the hands of political scientist Richard Hofstadter, who outlined the ‘Paranoid Style in American politics — a style of mind, not always right wing in its affiliations … [characterised by] heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy’.(8) This made the persecution complex a key facet of political discourse, Hofstadter argued, systematising grandiose conspiracy theories after the style of the ‘clinical paranoiac’, who exhibits a ‘chronic mental disorder characterized by systematic delusions of persecution and of one’s own greatness’.(9) While both he and the demagogue are ‘overheated, over-suspicious, overaggressive, grandiose and apocalyptic in expression’, however, only the clinical paranoiac feels the ‘hostile and conspiratorial’ world to be ‘directed specifically against him’.(10) The spokesman for the paranoid style, on the other hand, finds it directed ‘against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not him alone, but millions of others’.(11) This is a significant difference, in that
Insofar as he does not usually see himself singled out as the individual victim of a personal conspiracy, he is somewhat more rational and much more disinterested. His sense that his political passions are unselfish and patriotic, in fact, goes far [as] to intensify his feeling of righteousness and his moral indignation.(12)
Such observations carry down to the present moment with a conspicuous salience. Criminological research into US national elections finds that the political preferences of white Americans are often shaped by stereotypes of African Americans as ‘lazy, welfare- dependent, violent, or demanding special favors’; in other words, that ‘race cues often racialize white public opinion’, and ‘racial messages do shape the political response of white citizens’, in the manner described both by Hofstadter and Mencken.(13) When the political responses of whites feed into crime policy, this research finds the primary source of information to be what is reported by the corporate press, which as a result of the stereotyping of minorities becomes the basis of government initiatives in that regard. ‘There is no evidence that political elites’ initial involvement in the wars on crime and drugs was a response to popular sentiments’, notes Katherine Beckett:
Public concern about crime was quite low when candidate Barry Goldwater decided to run on a law and order platform in the 1964 presidential election. Similarly, when President Ronald Reagan first declared a ‘national war on drugs’ in 1982 and when he called for a renewal of this campaign in 1986, fewer than 2% of those polled identified drugs as the nation’s most important problem. Nor is the most recent reincarnation of the crime issue a response to popular concern, although the public’s attention has certainly shifted in that direction. Only 7% of those polled identified crime as the nation’s most important problem in June 1993, just before the legislative debate over anti crime legislation began. Six months later, in response to the high levels of publicity these legislative activities received, that percentage had increased to 30%. By August 1994, a record high of 52% of those polled were most concerned about crime. Gallup Poll analysts concluded that this result was ‘no doubt a reflection of the emphasis given to that issue by President Clinton since he announced his crime bill in last January’s State-of-the-Union Address, and of the extensive media coverage now that the crime bill is being considered by Congress’.(14)
Beckett concludes by noting the irony of official data indicating a decline in the prevalence of most types of crime during this period. The facts of the situation notwithstanding, racist cues provided by the political class became the basis for a series of exercises in scaremongering, not least of which was the use of the scare campaign over black criminal Willie Horton by George Bush Snr. during the 1988 presidential debates, culminating in a moral panic over the ‘knockout game’ in 2013.(15) The prevalence in US national elections of scaremongering using the paranoid style to take advantage of the strong vein of irrationalism in politics is more than sufficient to invite the re-framing of the democratic election cycle as a ‘scare cycle’. The scare cycle contrasts with the theoretical notion of election cycles as forums for dispassionate policy debate, places where the voting public are presented with the facts and left alone to make up their own minds, as those who aspire to power scapegoat convenient targets for policy failures.(16) H. L. Mencken, observing this in the 1920s, wrote that ‘the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary’.(17)
Moral Panics and the Scare Cycle
One of the main problems in coming to terms with the menacing of the public with an endless series of hobgoblins is that it involves deception as a matter of course; furthermore, the capacity to carry out scapegoating campaigns also implies the power to control the meaning of words, which in turn implies the power to silence criticism. Hence scapegoating campaigns have typically only proved identifiable as such long after the fact. In the past few decades, however, sociological research into moral panics, in concerning itself with episodes in which ‘a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests’,(18) has expedited the process of identifying scapegoating narratives, offering critical insight into the production of imaginary hobgoblins.
In the seminal Folk Devils and Moral Panics, sociologist Stanley Cohen explored the reactions of local communities and media outlets to youth-related disturbances at a number of English seaside towns in the late 1960s. The youth involved belonged to various subcultures. He argued that a process of ‘deviant amplification’ was at play. Since the disturbances were largely little more than a series of brief clashes between rival youth subcultures, the reaction was disproportionate to the threat presented to the communities concerned.(19) Despite producing no lasting damage to life or limb, they were presented publicly as the beginning of the breakdown of society. It was argued that the media reaction was consciously instigated as a kind of morality play by community leaders who, perceiving a threat to their privilege and power, were anxious to reassert both — paradoxically rendering themselves both cause and cure of the problem.(20) Seeking to make sense of this paradox, Cohen referred to a manual for disaster response groups, outlining an almost identical process for the process of ‘deviant amplification’, or ‘the production of deviance’ — the production, in other words, of imaginary hobgoblins with which to terrify the public and stimulate the desire for draconian laws that could be used later for other purposes. Cohen quoted Howard Becker to the effect that ‘deviance is created by society … Social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance and by applying those rules to particular persons and labelling them as outsiders’.(21) Deviance as a social phenomenon, then, depended far more on who had the power to define the meaning of the word and impose their own definition on popular discourse than on theparticular characteristics of anyone thus labelled.(22) In practical terms, this meant that rather than responding to social crises with constructive actions addressing the grievances of those involved in conflict, the ‘moral entrepreneurs’ responsible for the panic sought leverage through deviance production to rehabilitate the ideological foundations of the status quo and the legitimacy of those who represented it. In providing the power structure with a way to polarise public opinion, it also provided them with a hobgoblin or bogeyman with which to sow terror, smear critics and opponents on the basis of guilt by association, and reposition themselves as public saviours under crisis conditions of their own making. The labelling process became the basis for scare campaigns that would trigger primitive ‘fight or flight’ responses in the public, which could then be harnessed for political purposes. Thus ‘social control leads to deviance’, Cohen pointed out, not vice versa.(23)
Given the requirement that there be control over the channels of mass communication, deviance production was, by definition, an elite-controlled process.(24) In Cohen’s study, suppression of the root causes of the youth disturbances by a sensationalist corporate media looking to sell newspapers was a critical factor in the successful engineering of moral panics. Thus, youth alienation created by high unemployment and the fear of change in older generations triggered by the rise of youth culture were not considered. Overwhelmed by events, and either unwilling or unable to address the actual causes of the problem, older and more established community members took the easy option of demonising disaffected youth as hoodlums and thugs, and the media took advantage of the situation for their own purposes.(25) In such cases, where unethical, immoral, harmful, dangerous and even criminal behaviours need reconstructing as morally just and right, the group of behavioural traits understood in social psychology as ‘moral disengagement’ turn out to be particularly useful.(26) In contrast to cartoonish stereotypes of villainy as the result of a sociopathic rejection of morality per se, research into moral disengagement recognises that we rarely reject morality outright; rather, we apply it selectively. Broadly, the mechanisms of moral disengagement include:
1. Displacing or diffusing responsibility (everyone does it, it’s normal, and so on);
2. Misrepresenting injurious consequences as beneficial to the victim (they like it, it’s good for them);
3. Demonising and dehumanising the victim (they are bad/evil, therefore the rules we have for regular people don’t apply);
4. Articulating a self-defence in morally absolute terms (those who aren’t for me are against me; willing conflation of criticism of ideas/ attitude/conduct/policy and attacks on person and rights).(27)
Insofar as it constitutes a means of dehumanising or demonising of the other, deviance production can therefore be seen as a form of moral disengagement. To the extent that this is the case, moral disengagement would seem to be intimately associated with moral panics in constituting one of its characteristic facets. If moral panics create a safe space for scapegoating, the mechanics of moral disengagement act as the engine of deviance production and moral panics. While not all forms of moral disengagement appear in every episode of deviance production, moral panicking over external threats will characteristically involve falsely associating dissent, criticism, questioning, challenge, doubt, or failure to worship with the requisite level of awe, with attacks on one’s person and rights on the basis of the persecutory tactic of ‘guilt by association’. Deviance production will inevitably depend on a logic that boils down to victim-playing, victim-blaming and the ‘false dilemma’ fallacy (those who are not for us are against us).
The false dilemma becomes the basis for an a priori confusion, as noted, of object and relation, in which dysfunctional, unjust and irrational social relations that produce crises can be swept under the rug in the name of persecuting the deviant stereotype now characterising a victimised group. There can be no dysfunctional social relations if they are not even acknowledged to exist. Neatly summarising this fact in defending his declaration that ‘the means of defence against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home’, founding father and author of the US Constitution James Madison pointed out during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1777 that ‘among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war whenever a revolt was apprehended’.(28) Few have taken issue with him; the Romans too, it seems, were preoccupied with imaginary hobgoblins, not a small part of their legacy.
Hobgoblins in History
The historical background to moral panics provides further insight into the nature of scare cycles. Historical inquisitions, show trials and kangaroo courts provide precedents for today’s kangaroo court of public opinion, where trial by inquisition has been replaced with trial by a mass media devoted to the use of deviance production and victim-blaming to expedite the manufacture of consent.(29) As Trumbo, a recent Hollywood film on the subject reminds us, Hollywood in the 1950s fell to ideological hysteria and authoritarianism as screenwriters and directors were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and asked to answer the question: ‘Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?’ Those called before the Committee who refused to answer or to betray friendships by naming their associates were held in contempt and blacklisted from the motion picture industry as communists, in the name of defending democratic norms.(30)
In a climate of moral panic, what belief system the accused subscribed to was immaterial; what mattered was that they had been identified as non-conformists. The Committee did not even need testimony to achieve its task; J. Edgar Hoover’s ‘Security Index’ became the basis for the actual function of the HUAC as ‘inquisitorial theatre’. Said a HUAC investigator to the Washington Star in 1957: ‘We wouldn’t be able to stay in business overnight if it weren’t for the FBI’.(31) In this respect, the HUAC operated on the same basis as every other form of the proverbial kangaroo court throughout history. The accused did not appear before the Committee to argue a case, but to demonstrate deference to the Committee and allegiance to the status quo (and the vested interests behind it). Those who failed to submit to such ideological policing, specifically aimed at Hollywood with a view to purging the cultural beacon of the Western world of crimethink, received the mark of otherness for daring to doubt the right of the HUAC to assume the role of thought police. Since the HUAC operated on the principle that ‘those who are not for us are against us’, it was taken
for granted that refusal to venerate the Committee with the requisite level of awe was tantamount to a vote for Stalinism.(32)
In the same vein, throughout the three centuries of the European witch-hunts, opposition to burning at the stake was identified with giving aid to witches, or even with being a witch oneself; thus does the very first line of the unhinged and misogynistic witch-hunting tract, the Malleus Maleficarum, declare that anyone who doubts the existence of witches is a heretic.(33) If you cast doubt on the official orthodoxy or think for yourself, the Brides of Satan win – as do the communists, or indeed the terrorists.
Much like the HUAC, the witch trials were less designed, as Silvia Federici has revealed, to save Europe from an actually existing threat than they were to neutralise a rebellious peasantry. Lately released from their feudal bonds by the decline of the feudal economy and the experience of famine and pandemic, mass deference to theocracy became notably lacking; fearing for its temporal power, the Catholic hierarchy turned to other means to protect itself.(34) Much like the HUAC, the witch trials functioned as show trials to identify and persecute dissenters and nonconformists, terrorising those ensnared in their web with the prospect of burning at the stake, and forcing them to name their associates in ritual punishment for disobedience and nonconformity while providing the theocratic Terror with new targets. Other notorious kangaroo courts, such as the Stalinist show trials of the Great Purge of the 1930s, performed the same function. Dissidents were arrested as counter-revolutionaries and forced to give up names of their associates to avoid the firing squad; in this instance, as in the others, opposition to abuses of power was equated with support for capitalist reaction – if you think for yourself, the counter-revolutionaries win).(35)
In all of the above examples, the climate of elevated emotions they produced functioned as an enabling narrative for persecution based on a fear of the other and the equally great lust for revenge, with the aid of an appropriate victim mentality and willing blindness to the difference between being criticised and being attacked. The success of this approach depended on the viciousness and vociferousness of the scare propaganda enabling it, and on the opportunities available to those so motivated to attack their political opponents in the name of upholding justice. The HUAC is especially instructive for us today in demonstrating how completely pre- and anti-democratic dynamics of fear, revenge and mob justice can weasel their way into formally or purportedly democratic systems of government, and the great damage they can do. History might exonerate the victims and condemn the perpetrators, but it can never recover what was lost to and by victims. Likewise, the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives destroyed by show trials tilting after witches, counter-revolutionaries and other deviants and evil-prone misfits can never be reclaimed, even if history later condemns the institutions that took them.
Hobgoblins and the News Cycle
The essential problem of historical show trials is the fact that the moral-panic narratives upon which they turned could be reinvented in other forms, giving rise to new deviant stereotypes, new persecutions and new blood lettings. This is complicated by the characteristically deceptive nature of scapegoating propaganda, and the difficulty of combating the hegemony of the corporate mass media. One particularly courageous attempt to confront this problem has been the vastly underrated seminal study of corporate propaganda by Alex Carey in his Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, which examines, among other things, the origins of the HUAC.(36) Commenting on the origins of what became the public relations industry (or these days ‘strategic communication’), Carey notes ‘three [twentieth-century] developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy’(37) — factors of particular significance where the national election cycle is concerned, paradoxically enough. In a remarkable passage, while ruminating at some length on the historical relationship between these three developments and Hofstadter’s ‘paranoid style’, Carey describes a three-stage process for the reconstruction of ideological orthodoxy under cover of what is essentially moral panic:
1. A threat (real or imagined) from outside the United States achieves a dramatic impact on popular consciousness;2. This effect occurs at a time when liberal reforms and popular hostility to the large corporations and the power they exercise are perceived by conservative interests as a profound threat from inside the U.S. social and political system. Finally, 3. The two perceived threats merge, to the discredit of the internal reforms and of any political party, persons or policies associated with them.(38)
We would do well to recall that this was published in 1995; I have read no eerier foreshadowing of the future than this. Some of Carey’s examples are referred to above, others may be found in earlier periods of American nativism.(39) Carey’s description of corporate propaganda in the United States recalls instances of deviance production evident in premodern and totalitarian societies, raising serious questions as to how deeply entrenched the basic assumptions fuelling them are in our own period. While some might read conspiracy theorising in such commentary, note what Edward Bernays, the ‘Father of Public Relations’, wrote in his own work on the subject: ‘the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society’ –
Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of … It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.(40)
Alex Carey notes that this ‘conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses’ takes the form of the development of a corporate narrative that identifies the particular, sectional and partisan interests of a burgeoning corporate power with the common interest of the nation as a whole. In this narrative, defenders of partisan economic interests were provided with a means of blame-shifting by wilfully conflating criticism of one’s conduct with attacks on one’s rights and person, as per the false-dilemma fallacy associated with moral disengagement. It was unthinkable that one could criticise prevailing economic and social orthodoxies because they deserved it; within the binary mode of thinking, one could only be for an increasingly oligarchic status quo, or outside and against America.
It was blinkered thinking of this kind that gave birth to the HUAC. A paradox is conspicuous here in that the HUAC acted in the name of defending democratic norms while using methods previously associated with the Great Purge and the European witch-hunts. A direct comparison is unnecessary to show that the dynamics upon which the HUAC turned the production of deviance and victim-blaming based on a victim complex enabled by a tendency to identify doubt in the prevailing orthodoxies with giving aid to the evil-doers – were identical. The false dilemma was equally serviceable whether the kangaroo court took an institutional form or the form of ‘inquisitorial theatre’, sustained by public opinion shaped and moulded by public-relations narratives designed to ‘pull the wires which control the public mind’.
The recent history of election cycles in Australia bears out this point, the most glaring example being the fallout from the terrorist attacks of 2001. Katherine Gleeson notes that this was one of several gifts of heaven-sent manna received by Prime Minister John Howard, who in using terrorism for electoral purposes set a precedent for all who followed on the basis of deviance production and scapegoating, the oldest tricks in the book. ‘Historically,’ Gleeson writes, ‘provoked attack offers leaders an extraordinary opportunity for increased political legitimacy’ –
With an election looming and trailing in the polls, the chance to engage Australia in what was perceived publicly as a legitimate war was arguably too good a political offering to passup. According to McAllister, the Labor Party held a 13-point lead over the Liberal Party in the first six months of 2001, and looked set for defeat were it not for the vote-turning issues of border protection and terrorism. Polls throughout the world reflected the reality that voters opt to support the incumbent government in times of uncertainty and existential threat; Howard rode this wave with great success. He was remade as something of a war leader in the style of his great mentor Robert Menzies; he became the ‘deputy sheriff’ he had aspired to two years prior; he successfully wedged the ALP on security; he took on a new image as a gutsy conviction politician; and he promised Australians security against that which they feared (rationally or otherwise).(41)
As a precursor to the torrent of xenophobia and Islamophobia unleashed in September 2001 came the Tampa affair (in August that year), in which 438 refugees from Afghanistan were rescued by the eponymous Norwegian vessel in international waters, then denied entry into Australia. Together with the ‘children overboard’ affair in October, in which the government lied about refugees throwing their children into the water as their boat sank, these incidents were widely regarded as the catalysts for the Coalition victory in the November federal elections.(42) Ian Ward noted that ‘these events were part of a carefully calculated Liberal Party strategy to revive its flagging electoral stocks’(43) — one whose wild success offered a clear precedent for elections to come. While it has never been illegal to seek asylum in Australia, Howard nevertheless declared on 3AW radio his belief ‘that it is in Australia’s national interest that we draw a line on what is increasingly becoming an uncontrollable number of illegal arrivals in this country’.(44) Such comments were dabbling in both deviance production and moral disengagement; the labelling of refugees as ‘illegals’ demonised and dehumanised them while allowing Howard to play the victim of this threat to Australia’s national interest, and to victimise those who were already victims of a war he had played a part in starting.
These were also characteristic features of the children overboard affair, where on the eve of the 2001 election the Howard government claimed that asylum seekers had thrown their children into the sea as their fishing vessel sunk. These claims were false — at the time of the alleged incident the boat, with 223 people on board, including fifty-six children, was still afloat and limping back towards Indonesia.(45) A Senate inquiry established to determine what had happened later concluded that ‘[t]he story was in fact untrue’, and that the Howard government had known they were
false accusations prior to the federal election.(46) The report explicitly noted that these false claims were ‘used by the Government to demonise [asylum seekers] as part of the argument for the need for a “tough” stand against external threats and in favour of “putting Australia’s interests first”’.(47) Despite these and subsequent findings against the government’s claims, the timing of a second Senate inquiry prior to the 2004 election permitted the affair to dominate that campaign too, once more helping to return the Howard gov – ern ment to office.(48) Such was its distain for Howard’s ‘[cynical exploiting of] voters’ fears of a wave of illegal immigrants by demonising asylum-seekers’, that even the usually ultraconservative Australian newspaper entitled one story, ‘PM’s Credibility Blown out of the Water’, adding that ‘this disturbing saga still has a long way to go’.(49)
Not one to let facts get in the way of inquisitorial theatre, however, Howard continued to campaign on ‘border protection’, to great media fanfare led by papers like The Australian, famously declaring that ‘we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’, and continuing to stir the pot with comments to the effect that ‘this campaign, more than any other that I have been involved in, is very much about … having an uncompromising view about the fundamental right of this country to protect its borders’.(50) Border protection was never in question, though Howard’s insinuation that it was carried the implicit assumption, rarely challenged by the mass media, that Australia’s adherence to international refugee conventions was undermining Australian sovereignty. Howard’s victim complex in this respect reflected his moral disengagement, manifest in his victimisation of unfortunates later found to be legitimate refugees – many of whom eventually resettled in New Zealand.
Rick Kuhn notes that this campaign strategy provided Howardwith a way to promote the unpopular austerity platform that had seen the Liberal Party lose the ‘unlosable’ 1993 election. With a hat tipped to the rising figure of Pauline Hanson, whose policies he would eventually appropriate as a strategy to undermine her political support, racism provided an eminently suitable distraction – one that could be combined with Reaganite counter-terrorism narratives and incipient xenophobia in the wake of the September 11 terrorist atrocities in the United States.(51) These inevitably received similar treatment according to the established script. Howard led the way in linking terrorism and illegal immigration, declaring on the AM radio program on 19 September 2001 that ‘every country has a redoubled obligation in the light of what has happened to scrutinise very carefully who is coming into this country’(52) — the linking of one existential threat to another being an example of another noted phenomenon that moral panic researchers have called ‘convergence’.(53) In another speech, Howard announced that Australian voters ‘must also ask themselves who is better able to lead this country in the dangerously different strategic and economic circumstances in which the country now finds itself’(54) – being ‘tough on terrorism’ was now a campaign platform.
As the basis for the scare cycle, such talk also begat the ‘Pacific Solution’, whereby refugees to Australia would be warehoused offshore, which by 2005 had cost $220 million, in addition to the $336 million spent on a new 800-bed detention camp on Christmas Island, and $58 on Manus Island.(55) As it turned out, the border protection industry would become a useful Keynesian economic stimulus and job-creation program — for border guards, Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers, as well as their suppliers and outfitters — with few complaints from the paragons of laissez-faire capitalism about state intervention in economic life. Indeed, as one commentator put it, ‘stopping the boats is bad for business’.(56) Howard gloated as he was re-elected that people would ‘remember that period that I stopped the boats’.(57)
In 2004, Howard again deployed the rhetoric that had worked so famously four years before.(58) In this, as before, he had the help of Toby Ralph, known these days for taking a job in 2007 for the Australian Constructors Association to develop a strategy for unleashing a ‘politically damaging campaign’ against the Australian Labor Party unless it toned down its opposition to the government’s Work Choices legislation,(59) the Association clearly recognising Ralph’s skill in blame-shifting. Crikey notes that the plan ‘was shelved when Labor agreed to postpone its plans to abolish the building industry watchdog’.(60) Howard’s re-election speech made sure to make hay with popular fears of terrorism, alleging that ‘terrorism has cast a dark cloud over the world’, and that ‘it is a challenge that must be repulsed, and a challenge best repulsed by us being determined to live the lives of a free and democratic society’.(61) He added, ‘whether popular or not, I will never hesitate to do whatever is right and necessary, to protect Australia and the Australian people against the threat of terrorism’.(62)
As the already toxic political discourse was further inflamed by such comments, spilling over into ugly episodes such as the Cronulla race riots of 2005, Howard pressed on, claiming it was in ‘Australia’s national interest’ to support the continuing war on terror, even as this created the conditions for the rise of Islamic State, as Paula Matthewson has saliently observed:
While it may be eminently logical to bolster security measures to deal with the rise of organised and lone wolf terrorists at home, it makes little sense to participate in a military campaign similar to the one that caused home-grown extremists to arise in the first place.(63)
Otherwise preoccupied with the emotions of the moment, however, the kangaroo court of Australian public opinion failed to notice or anticipate the possibility of such developments. In 2003, The Onion quipped: ‘If you thought Osama bin Laden was bad, just wait until the countless children who become orphaned by U.S. bombs in thecoming weeks are all grown up’,(64) as today they now are, with the predicted consequences now bemoaned by all and used as an excuse for further responses along the same lines as those that created the problem to begin with, ad infinitum.
Lacking new major events to seize on, Howard was ousted from office in 2007, although he left a lasting legacy – attack ads from both sides of the political fence seeking to capitalise on the priming of hateful negativity throughout the electorate.(65) In 2013, newsmedia doyen Laurie Oakes noted with approval that ‘Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is turning back the tide on the boats’, recalling that ‘Rudd once promised not to “lurch to the Right” on border protection’ – no one was complaining that he was adhering to Hofstadter’s paranoid style too.(66) As the saying goes, however, those who live by the sword die by it too: an unprecedented scare campaign around Rudd’s proposed Resource Super Profit Tax (RSPT) on mining radically undermined the government and contributed to Rudd’s downfall in June 2010, reminding us of Carey’s observation regarding the growth of democracy alongside the growth of corporate power, the latter in this case funding a supreme example of a constructed scare campaign via the amplification of what it meant to be Australian.(67)
Having taken advantage of the unprecedented corporate-funded scare campaign, Prime Minister Julia Gillard likewise pandered to the prevailing sentiment regarding refugees, eventually managing to have the Australian mainland excised from the migration zone for the purposes of avoiding national commitments to international refugee conventions — something Howard had tried to do and failed, his backbench having determined the strategy too mercenary and dishonest.(68) Following the example of her predecessor, Gillard too died by the sword, this time at the hands of Howard’s disciple Tony Abbott, who in making his election strategy the production of deviance through three-word scare slogans demonstrated that he had learnt his lessons well.(69) Abbott declared at around this time: ‘What we will ensure is that we are not played for mugs by the people-smugglers and their customers … we will not be taken for a ride as a nation and a people’(70) — though if he had sincerely wanted to break the people smugglers’ ‘business model’, he only needed to permit the asylum seekers entry into the country in line with international refugee conventions. Not being serviceable to scare-cycle narratives, however, such options were off the table.
Abbott’s use of three-word slogans (for example, ‘Stop the Boats’) provides relevant context for the recent 2016 double dissolution election, triggered by the failure of a Bill to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Minister for Industrial Relations Senator Michaelia Cash alleged of the construction industry that ‘the level of industrial unlawfulness in this sector adds to the cost of every project’, thereby hurting productivity (and, by implication, the national good, as per Carey’s corporatist narrative referred to above).(7)1 Cash alleged that the upshot of these attacks on productivity and idealism was that ‘Australians pay more’; she and the government remained silent, however, on the rising cost of electricity thanks to the $48 billion in taxpayer funds spent augmenting the power grid.(72) The failure of the Turnbull government’s scare narrative to capture the public imagination in light of such inconsistencies perhaps goes some way towards explaining Turnbull’s reversion to xenophobia in the face of low approval ratings prior to the 2016 election. Similar behaviour has also been a marked characteristic of his US
counterpart in Donald Trump, both as a campaign strategy and a response to low approval ratings, evidencing Ghassan Hage’s contention that ‘Muslim-bashing has become de rigeur and widely seen by politicians as a route to popular success’, as has war against their countries.(73) This fact certainly proved a salient one for Pauline Hanson, returned at the recent election to the Senate as the spokesperson for her revitalised One Nation party.(74)
For his part, the Assistant National Secretary for the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Dave Noonan, said supporters of the ABCC had
… engaged in a campaign of smear and disinformation calculated to induce a moral panic in the community about the construction industry … The reason for that is simply to persuade the public to accept draconian laws in relation to industrial relations that would not otherwise be acceptable.(75)
To the extent that in initiating another stage of the scare cycle the government was reading from the age-old script of moral panicking and witch-hunting, Noonan may have been unaware how right he really was.
As scapegoating narratives become intertwined with national elections and the news cycle – devoted to the vested interests of the billionaires who own and control the mass media and the task of manufacturing consent through deviance production – historical forms of panic-driven scapegoating may be seen as precursors to contemporary varieties. Just as history repeats in the appearance and reappearance of campaigns of persecution carried out by witch-hunts, literal and otherwise, so too is the election cycle being reduced to a scare cycle in which electoral success is measured in terms of the capacity to menace the public with imaginary hobgoblins.
Election campaigns in Australia over the last fifteen years at least have far more in common with the kangaroo courts of history than contests of policy traditionally associated with representative democracy — more even perhaps than the personality contests that have tended to substitute for policy debates in the contemporary period. Where scaremongering becomes a basis of election cycles, its narratives provide candidates with pretexts to reconstruct themselves as defenders of the nation, regardless of their actual track record, or their support for the kind of neoliberal social and economic policies producing disastrous effects for the living conditions and opportunities of majority populations. In doing this, they represent a tacit admission of failure on the part of those seeking to exonerate themselves of blame, and of a broader failure of the system overall. ■
Ben Debney lives in Melbourne, Australia. Twitter: @itesau
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- ‘Among their other functions, the media serve, and propagandise on behalf of, the powerfulsocietal interests that control and finance them. The representatives of these interests have important agendas and principles that they want to advance, and they are well positioned to shape and constrain media policy. This is normally not accomplished by crude intervention, but by the selection of right-thinking personnel and by the editors’ and working journalists’ internalization of priorities and definitions of newsworthiness that conform to the institutions’ policy’ — E. S. Herman and N. Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, New York, Random House, 2010, p. xi. See also J. Oplinger, R. Talbot and Y. Aktay, ‘Elite Power and the Manufacture of a Moral Panic: The Case of the Dirty War in Argentina’, in Moral Panics in the Contemporary World, New York, Bloomsbury, 2013, p. 263; G. Shafir and C. E. Schairer, ‘The War on Terror as Political Moral Panic’, in G. Shafir, E. Meade and W. J. Aceves (eds), Lessons and Legacies of the War on Terror: From Moral Panic to Permanent War, London, Routledge, 2013, p. 9.
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- The Advertiser, ‘Prime Minister Julia Gillard: Why We Must Stop the Boats’, 26 September 2011, <http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/ipad/prime-minister-julia-gillard-why-we-muststop- the-boats/news-story/6c9e592ae9d4b88b2b812d61c42a39ec?>, accessed 20 May 2017; A. Rourke, ‘Tony Abbott, the Man Who Promised to “Stop the Boats”, Sails to Victory’, The Guardian, 8 September 2013, <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/07/ australia-election-tony-abbott-liberal-victory>, accessed 20 May 2017.
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- J. Hill, ‘Power Corrupts How Network Companies Lined Their Pockets and Drove Electricity Prices through the Roof’, The Monthly, July 2014, <https://www.themonthly.com.au/ issue/2014/july/1404136800/jess-hill/power-corrupts>, accessed 20 May 2017.
- G. Hage, Is Racism an Environmental Threat?, Cambridge, Polity, 2016, p. 5; M. Brull, ‘Into the Abyss: Right on Cue, Desperate Malcolm Turnbull Turns on Minorities’, New Matilda, 31 October 2016, <https://newmatilda.com/2016/10/31/into-the-abyss-right-on-cuedesperate-malcolm-turnbull-turns-on-minorities>, accessed 20 May 2017; New Matilda, ‘The Oldest Trick in the Journalism Playbook’, 26 March 2015, <https://newmatilda.com/2015/03/26/oldest-trick-journalism-playbook>, accessed 20 May 2017; G. Greenwald, ‘The Spoils of War: Trump Lavished with Media and Bipartisan Praise For Bombing Syria’, The Intercept, 8 April 2017, <https://theintercept.com/ 2017/04/07/the-spoils-of-war-trump-lavishedwith- media-and-bipartisan-praise-for-bombing-syria>, accessed 20 May 2017; N. Clairmont, ‘Is Trump an Ur-Fascist?’, The Atlantic, 5 October 2016, <https://www. theatlantic.com/ notes/2016/ 10/fascism/502841>, accessed 20 May 2017.
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Several weeks ago, a movement of anger as we have not seen in a longtime appeared in France, totally disorienting the state power. It is understandable and legitimate in regard to the suffered social violence; the diversity of its participants is an indication of how much people are fed up with the successive, more or less hidden, austerity politics. Even if impressive, this revolt is only adding to the recent social movements taking place throughout France in the hospitals, the rail company, universities, high-schools etc.
The main characteristic of this movement is the rejection of representation by politicians and of self-proclaimed leaders. On the occupied roundabouts, new modes of social interaction are being invented. Anarchists approve of this attitude which has always been theirs. However, the revolt will be in vain if it is not followed by proposals. They exist, for example in Saint-Nazaire or Commercy, and even if they don’t fully satisfy the anarchists, they deserve to be supported as long as they are moving toward emancipation.
We are condemning and denouncing the many cases of violent State repression (arbitrary arrests, flash trials, mutilations from police ‘non-lethal’ rounds and other offensive police weapons) as the only answer to the protests.
The victory of this movement will not be the dissolution of the Assemblée nationale (editor’s note: French Parliament) in order to fill it with demagogues/populists and/or nationalists who themselves would not tolerate such demonstrations, but in its disruption through the establishment of self-organising and anarchist federalism.
If you are taking action, you need to secure your comms. It’s that simple. There are a few options for this depending on needs, tech skills and how much time you have to secure your Viddyjam thread, meme shares and most importantly your action planning. For most folk the app that balances our security for user-bility, is Signal. The reasons for this are, well as the developers over at Open Whisper Systems stated in response to the Australian state’s ‘Assistance and Access’ bill:
By design, Signal does not have a record of your contacts, social graph, conversation list, location, user avatar, user profile name, group memberships, group titles, or group avatars. The end-to-end encrypted contents of every message and voice/video call are protected by keys that are entirely inaccessible to us.
The bill is an Aus variant on the UK’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’, intended to give the state more power over our communications. It demands that organisations like Open Whisper Systems hand over all the data they hold on an individual at the state’s request. Think of all the data Fedbook Facebook or Google could hand over. Think of your email provider. Think of your Internet Service Provider.
Unfortunately for the
state, if you’re using Signal, your messages are safe – Open Whisper
Systems have no data to hand over. If you’re not already using it,
below we explain how to get started.
It’s available from the Apple Store, the Play Store, or direct from their website (Android users only) and is a pretty small download so it won’t rinse your credit. The first thing to happen on boot up is that it’ll ask for your phone number. This is the only data they will ever hold on you.Your friends can message you on this number once they’ve installed Signal too.
It’s that simple. You’re good to go.
Although Signal uses telephone numbers as contacts, encrypted calls and messages actually use your data connection; therefore you will need internet access (either over wifi, 4G or the brain melting 5G) on your mobile to use it.
If you have used WhatsApp, iMessager or Facebook Messenger before, or even old school SMS texts, then Signal will feel very familiar to you. Your friends who have already installed the app will appear in Signal’s contact list. You can write messages to them, send them pictures, ring them, make a group with them… everything you are used to doing now, but without compromising your privacy and security.
A great feature of Signal we recommend using is ‘disappearing messages’. This is something Whatsapp etc don’t have. You can use this feature to set all messages to self-destruct after a day, a week, a month etc, so if you or your friend’s phone ever falls into the wrong person’s hands they won’t have your entire conversation history – just messages from the last week or so.
If you’re still not convinced, Wired explains all the tech behind Signal here: (www.wired.com/story/ditch-all-those-other-messaging-apps-heres-why-you-should-use-signal-again)
For a more detailed, step by step guide to installing and using Signal read the Electronic Freedom Frontier’s how-tos here: (www.ssd.eff.org/en/module/how-use-signal-ios)
Now remember, if you might be of interest to state actor, assume they can read your shit. Nothing digital is secure forever. Even if GCHQ or Skum Corp. can’t access your data today, encryptions are not “future proof” and just like every other app do not assume it is a a magic bullet and using it will protect you in a court of law against anything that may be incriminating if you are of interest to a state actor.
Aspects of incriminating communications are mainly:
- WHO has been communicating
- WHAT has been communicated
WHO: If it’s enough to prove you have been communicating with another party to implicate you does a state prosecutor need to know what your messages said? No. They may use traffic timing analysis and/or meta data analysis to prove people have been talking. For example, let’s say a government agency decides to put everyone who has googled ‘Kropotkin’ on a watch list and monitor their internet connections. Now lets say a bunch of those people are in a Signal group chat and somebody sends a message to the group at 2am. At 2am a blip of data is going to travel down all of to all their home internet connections from Signal’s servers, they can record this blip and other blips like it to work out who is talking to each other, then they only need to compromise one device or person to implicate your ass. It’s not like they have to do this by hand either — they’ll use AI.
WHAT: Don’t place too much faith in end-to-end encryption (E2EE) apps to hide your shit from prying eyes if you are of interest to a state actor. Take instant messages for example; sure they are encrypted in transit, but how do they get into transit? You type them with your sinful fingers first. So what attack vectors may exist?
- Maybe they can get malware onto your device and install a keylogger or screen recorder.
- Maybe you use a third party keyboard on your smartphone like SwiftKey, developed by TouchType Ltd. a subsidiary of Microsoft. Maybe it collects data they can get their hands on. Maybe it has a backdoor already. Microsoft don’t give a shit about your privacy.
- Of course, all smartphone keyboards have predictive text now and a lot of them sync that data to the cloud. Maybe there’s something there they can warrant for. E.g. if you’re planning an action to stick a banana in a car exhaust — your predictive text data might show that the words ‘banana’ and ‘exhaust’ appear in close proximity to each-other with unusually high frequency.
Also, if you don’t have deleting messages and they can get your device password/unlock code you’re fucked. Maybe you’re logged into Signal on your PC and you don’t have full disk encryption – forensics could probably crack your password with a biscuit in one hand. Maybe a spook shoulder-surfs you on public transport and gets your smartphone unlock code. Maybe you get nicked while eating a pasty and left a nice smudge on the screen of your phone where your unlock code was swiped. You get the idea.
Saying all that, it’s impossible to deny the utility of secure messengers, 90% of the time the stuff your getting up to wont warrant investing into accessing your device, so make use of Signal for working groups, planing Squats and tactical comms out and about.
We should mention that there are indeed a few other options available, each with their positives and negatives. Telegram for instance is prettier and more accessible, it’s most people’s gateway into secure comms and hell if it’s good enough for ISIS and the IRA, you’re XR group are probably ok, on the other end of the Scale would be RIOT, which the Anarchist Federation are experimenting with for short form workshopping and group chats, it’s a little harder to break into but functions better for the purpose. ■
For a great comparison chart use : securemessagingapps.com
Download Signal here: signal.org
There is something deeply magical about social centres, for that matter any space utilised primarily for the community without any underhand purpose. In this capitalist society we are so used to our social space being a soulless void that only cares while you can pay.
Social Centres change all that. They are the hubs of their communities and the gathering points for rebels and revoltutionaries. These bastions of liberty provide an inestimable service to the people who use them. They should be supported at every turn, utilised and enjoyed,
Some these venues are also resources centres, art houses, cafes and even cinemas, with their voluteers and staff using their labour to build and maintain vital centers of culture for their communities. others act as critical points of protest and mutual aid, truly existing at coalface in the ongoing conflict with the capitalist state.
Many of these centres liase through the Social Centres Network (SCN) who aim to provide a portal to the world of social networks and aligned spaces as they inevitable ebb and flow. The SCN helps to keep the members and organisers linked in and communicating, in turn helping to keep these spaces alive and thriving.
Together with The Anarchist Party and Punx UK we are developing a global Anarchist Initiatives Database to help foster new links and build a stronger international culture of resistance. The first stage or this is developing the technology using British datasets, namely building a map of Social Centres.
For the purpose of testing we have kept a very strict definition of what a “Social Centre” is tho we have included the SCN database and venues with a specific Social Center remi. If we’ve missed one out, please add it via the website below.
Very shortly we shall be adding community cafes, solidarity centres, protest sites, co-ops etc until we have a full and robust map of our revolutionary community. ■
To see the WIP map for social spaces check out:-
The presidential elections in Brazil ended with the victory of the neo-fascist candidate Jair Bolsonaro of the far-right party Social Liberal Party (PSL), with just over 55% of the valid votes. After a necessary period of recovery and reflection, we as the Brazilian Women Against Fascism UK group would like to outline what we believe are the next stages of resistance and forms of mobilization that will need to be articulated before the government begins in 2019, but whose weight we already felt in that transition period.
We would like to thank everyone who joined us on October 28 in front of the embassy. Our demonstration was very moving and filled us with strength and affection. The solidarity of all those present, the work done collectively, the Brazilian food, the music, the drums, the dances, the hugs, the hail rain and the occupation of the streets … Our immense gratitude to all those involved!
Our victory is knowing that we are fighting on the right side of history. Despite the electoral defeat, the campaign against fascism gained a lot of momentum in the last week of the campaign, especially among women. Even though the elected candidate had the broad support of companies and the financial market, as well as much of the mainstream media, the repercussion of the #EleNao (#NotHim) campaign showed that the path of resistance is possible and will become a reality.
Since then, we have received many messages of support and solidarity from other activist movements, unions and academic groups, offering support and solidarity, and invitations to participate in activities and demonstrations to debate and protest against the advances of fascism in Brazil and in the world. We understand the rise of the far-right as a global corporate phenomenon, based on privileges for the few and the suppression of the rights of the people. Because of this, we believe in the importance of forming a global opposition.
Our movement is a part of and helps build the wider front of resistance of all who oppose Bolsonaro. We are a non-partisan group of women with diverse ideological leanings, but we all have something in common: the strength and the will to fight against the growth of fascism in Brazil. We will not be answerable to the politics of any party, personality or leadership, and we will point out the limitations and responsibilities of each of these. Our main objective is to add and contribute to the resistance, especially of women, in Brazil and internationally.
We are very sorry that Brazilians living in London have also mostly chosen to elect Bolsonaro. It will be necessary to confront this, as we cannot allow his hate speech to be normalized. After the first round of the presidential elections, we saw a wave of violence and attacks on women, blacks, indigenous peoples, the LGBTQ+ community, teachers and people in general demonstrating against the elected candidate. Such a wave did not cease, nor has it diminished with his election. On the contrary, it has increased. Teachers and students were exposed and threatened in various university settings within Brazil, Quilombola communities and Social Movements are being attacked, as well as the entire LGBTQ+ community, among many other attacks. The dangers that Bolsonaro presents are not limited to minorities and human rights, but they cover a wide range of issues, including the environmental issue and the old colonial social structures. His policy proposals are aimed at keeping the lower social classes ever lower, so that upper classes maintain their exorbitant profits and absurd privileges, dramatically increasing the giant social abyss in which Brazil has been for so long, with direct attacks on those who oppose and denounce the government.
We understand that it is the task of all social movements in Brazil to form a united front of resistance against the Bolsonaro government. For this to happen, the connection with the international press and social movements is of crucial importance, to denounce the government and to exert pressure against the path of authoritarianism. This is the role that the collective Brazilian Women Against Fascism UK will seek to play. We have a long and arduous road ahead of us and we will need the help of all who are willing and able to build a grassroots base to disseminate information and a support for our fellow Brazilians.
Please get in touch if you want to get more involved and/or have some idea to offer – we need reinforcements as we plan to schedule an open meeting in January in London to work closely with groups and individuals interested in organising an international boycott campaign against Bolsonaro’s government.
No one will stop our fight for equal rights for all. We will not be silenced. ■
Não Passarão! EleNão!
BWAF UK (Brazilian Women against Fascism UK) is a non-partisan group of Brazilian women living in the UK, organised in reaction to the rising fascist threat to the democratic ideals of freedom, equality and social justice in Brazil and in the world. We are always open to the arrival of new comrades.
- Stay in touch: email@example.com
A Poem by The Uptown Portrayer
The overworked and underpaid,
Have zero hours, treated like slaves,
Money for the 1%, low wage causes resent,
The workers’ rights have been removed,
No compassion very cruel,
It is the Tory way,
No money for people to spend,
So this country cannot mend,
No hope for the unemployed,
Ambition is destroyed,
Neglect is there for all to see,
Bringing the country to its knees,
It is aimed at you and me,
Because there is no work to do,
Become a MOD recruit,
Forced to go into a fight,
Participate in greed and hate,
We know the right wing love a war,
You wonder who the terrorists are,
Surely there’s a better way than,
Between you and me they drive a wedge,
The country’s living on the edge,
Social housing in decay,
Essential funds taken away,
Cost of living through the roof,
Only goes to prove,
A right wing philosophy is,
The NHS is on the floor,
People die in corridors,
Badly run soon privately own,
Everything is upside down,
More homeless people on our streets,
In the doorways, at our feet,
In a so called democracy,
We’ve social depravity.
They won’t just go and let us be,
What we do has to be screened,
To keep us all under control,
Our movements are patrolled,
Their paranoid of what we’ll do,
What repercussions might ensue?
Is this the way that we should be!
Social depravity. ■
Swansea based Punk Poet The Uptown Portrayer was established in 2017, and has been gigging hard ever since at Ska and Punk Festivals and supporting benefit gigs.
You can find him on Facebook.
Renouned for delivering an honest brand of poetry that resonates, and tackling subjects such as inequality, social issues and racism head on. The Uptown Portrayer Punk Poet also highlights the struggles of music venues, and displays a passion for live music, whilst also showing a compassionate side with originals based around friendships and compassion for others. Having recently recorded a verse from the poem “No Robot” with South Wales punk band Tenplusone on their latest album.